Antarctic science: Professor Brownlee joins the Antarctic Ocean Acidification cruise

Director of the MBA Colin Brownlee joins the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme cruise on the James Clark Ross in the Southern Ocean this week. The UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOARP) is looking at planktonic and microbial ecosystems in high latitudes, particularly in the context of ocean acidification. Scientists on the cruise will be examining the effects of increasing Carbon dioxide (CO2) on marine ecosystems.

CO2 forms a weak acid when it dissolves in seawater and as atmospheric CO2 concentrations increase, an increasing amount dissolves in the oceans. Now, after millions of years of steady conditions, the oceans are becoming more acidic. Scientists estimate that if we continue to emit CO2 at the same rate as we are today, by 2100 the average surface ocean pH (the measure of acidity/alkalinity) will have fallen from 8.1 to around 7.8.

In the laboratory, scientists can control conditions to observe the effects on organisms of changing acidity and CO2 levels. However, there are limitations to such studies.

On board the James Clark Ross, Professor Brownlee will be looking at how changes in the carbonate chemistry of the ocean affect phytoplankton species. These tiny organisms have an enormous influence on marine food chains and supply around half of the oxygen in our atmosphere. He will be taking samples of live phytoplankton and examining the response of populations to different levels of pH. Using genetic tools, he aims to identify any emerging adaptations in phytoplankton populations that would otherwise be invisible.

This cruise will further our understanding of how the tiniest but most important marine organisms of the polar regions will cope with environmental change.

Read more about Professor Brownlee’s research.

The research is part of the UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA). funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Marine Biological Association, 7 January 2013. Press release.

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